Saturday, September 22, 2012


When people talk about downsizing, they probably mean moving from a large house to a smaller one. It is not unusual for people -- especially "empty nesters" -- to recognize that a 4-bedroom house is too large once the kids are grown.

Recently it dawned on me that there are several types of "downsizing."

Once the need for space is reduced, it is quite logical to look for smaller housing. The cost of a large home can be significant. This includes upkeep, heating and cooling as well as taxes. Having to keep a big house clean may not be how folks want to spend their free time. Housekeeping can become a real chore when there are more attractive options for entertainment.

There is the downsizing of material possessions. The late comedian George Carlin used to do a wonderful sketch about having too much "stuff" including his observation that "A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff." We all own too much stuff. What the heck do we need so much stuff for, anyway? In college I could move from one dorm room to the other with my stuff contained in a couple of boxes. It was pretty simple. By the next move or two, moving took a little longer. Gradually time and expectations contributed to clutter. Moving and lifestyle changes can persuade us to thin the quantity through yard sales. But eventually after settling in one place for a while, our acquisition resumes.

Kids naturally require a lot of stuff, most of which is quickly discarded and replaced with new stuff. It is always a good idea if one parent remains level-headed and encourages the removal of outgrown clothes and unnecessary toys.

Electronics are now pivotal to our lives. Nearly every year brings new designs for cell phone, televisions, computers and computer-related devices. A friend of mine has four non-working computers in her household of two people. Perhaps she is hoping the gadgets will spontaneously heal or somehow merge into one working unit. In many communities entrepreneurs have begun efforts to recycle obsolete or non-working electronics. These programs prevent the items from ending up in landfills and encourages us to relinquish items which have outlived their usefulness.

Most Americans have far too many clothes. One of the best things about retirement is realizing that we no longer have to spend money to buy things we really don't like. That should mean that our closets contain only fashions that we actually like and need. But many of us still have items in our closet that we never wear. Thin out the contents of your closet and make some local charity the lucky recipient.

There is also mental downsizing. Most of us carry around far too much mental baggage. We worry about things of absolutely no significance. Learn to decide if you really care about something before you allow that thing to be added to your list of concerns. Now that retirement has given you the ability to pick and choose what occupies your time, USE that power.

There is also downsizing of one's weight, an effort that could benefit most people to some extent. Begin watching what you eat and try to stay on the path to improvement. Obesity is one of the greatest health challenges that our country needs to address.

We can also downsize our living expenses. Excess spending is a habit into which we can all slip. Try tracking how much you spend on the basics like food and gas. A friend of mine noted that her days of free-fall shopping had ended when her family began to include children and she no longer worked. "How did you survive?" I asked. "Very carefully," she smiled. "You can live on less when you make less. You'll see."

Downsizing can come in any number of ways. Go for it. Downsize your stuff and reduce your worries.

You are entitled to relax. Enjoy it.

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